How EDM Sensation Cash Cash Ended Up Partnering With a 59-Year-Old Instant Ramen Brand

Cup Noodles tries a new beat for the next generation

Cup Noodles ran a competition among up-and-coming DJs for the chance to open for Cash Cash.
Animation: Yuliya Kim; Sources: Cash Cash, Nissin

Back in 2002, when electronic dance music trio Jean Paul Makhlouf, his brother Alex, and Samuel Frisch were starting to lay down their first electronic dance tracks at a home studio in Roseland, N.J., they chose the name The Consequence. That turned into a bad idea when the band started getting record-deal offers—and, since the boys had failed to trademark their stage name, a flurry of legal notices. As the group explained in a 2013 interview, they chose the name Cash Cash “because everyone [was] after our cash, and we didn’t have any yet.”

Poverty and legal troubles aren’t the brand’s only memory of those early, lean years. So is their cuisine of choice from that period­, one shared by many an aspiring artist: Cup Noodles.

While things have gotten much better for Cash Cash of late—the band signed with Atlantic records and is currently on a national tour—Cup Noodles is back in the boys’ lives, this time as part of a tie-in with the famous instant ramen brand. As part of its “Just Warmin’ Up” campaign, Cup Noodles kicked off a competition among five up-and-coming DJs for the chance to open for Cash Cash at its March 24 gig at the Avalon, Hollywood’s mother church of EDM.

This morning, Cup Noodles will announce that Yntendo will be warming up the crowd that night. The Los Angeles duo beat out four other artists whose noodle beats dropped on SoundCloud on Feb. 21. A panel of judges from SoundCloud chose Yntendo as the winning act based on the popularity of its track posted on the platform and taking into account criteria like originality and creativity.

Music tie-ins are hardly a new idea in brand marketing, and that includes food brands. In November, for instance, OK Go produced a video with Morton Salt. It’s also not especially surprising that a brand historically popular with teens and early 20-somethings is doing a tie-in with EDM, a genre known for drawing the fresh-faced crowd.

What’s notable about this effort is that rather than running away from its reputation as the cheap-and-filling food of choice for students and starving artists, Cup Noodles has decided to embrace it.

“We’re the super affordable, delicious, easy noodles that got you through college,” said Leslie Mohr, vp marketing at Nissin Foods USA, Cup Noodles’ parent company, which was founded by instant ramen inventor Momofuku Ando in 1958. The college years, Mohr explained, are “a time in everyone’s life when you’re working hard to get to the next rung on the ladder. We want to be the champion of warm-up acts. The DJ campaign captures the spirit of Cup Noodles. It’s the brand that keeps you going as you work your way to the main stage.”

As for Cash Cash, Mohr said, the band was a natural fit in large part because they’re only a few years removed from their own lean and scrappy period. “They told us how much Cup Noodles was important to them,” Mohr said. “They felt a connection to the brand.” Most all successful creative people, she said, “have gone through a time in their lives where they’re living on something like Cup Noodles.”

That sort of frankness is probably wise for a brand like Cup Noodles, not least because its category has struggled in recent years with negative consumer perceptions stemming from its products’ traditionally high sodium content. Sales in the dry soup sector (of which ramen brands like Cup Noodles make up 52 percent) have been essentially flat for nearly a decade, growing an anemic 3 percent since 2010, according to data from Mintel.

Cup Noodles did cut its sodium content by 15-20 percent last year while also eliminating artificial flavors. But a basic cup of Cup Noodles still packs 11 grams of fat and 1,100 grams of salt. As Mintel’s report noted, “Nearly half of both soup and nonsoup users agree that packaged soup has too much sodium.”

Given unavoidable facts like those, veteran brand consultant Allen Adamson said, Nissin is doing the right thing by presenting its core product as a cheap, tasty and convenient snack—and no more than that.

“Trying to be something you’re not is becoming less effective,” said Adamson, who runs Brand Simple Consulting. “So if you’re not healthy and nutritious, taking baby steps to try to get there, like McDonald’s adding salads, is not going to cut it. You’re better off being true to who you are and embracing it and turning it into a benefit.”

Adamson added that filling up on a cheap, easy-to-prepare snack is what Cup Noodles’ core audience is doing anyway. The brand is not addressing itself to “moms of families of four,” Adamson said. “They’re looking at kids living in the dorm, or worse, and how do you connect with them? If they’re doing anything with their money, it’s going out and partying, not buying healthy food.”

And if those kids have 24 bucks handy and happen to live near L.A., they can go party with Cash Cash on the 24th and check out Yntendo as the opening act. Nissin’s original strategy called for having fans chowing down, too, but that plan didn’t work out so well.

“We were hoping to serve Cup Noodles there,” Mohr said. “But we’ll make sure [fans] leave with Cup Noodles in the bag with some fun swag.”